Phoblog convention guest blogger Jim Pinkerton takes to task Dem nominee Kerry today, arguing that Kerry's convention strategy emphasizing his war record was tantamount to waving a red flag in front of Vietnam Veterans angry with his post-war protests.
Pinkerton correctly cites the fundamental campaign rule: "know thyself." That is, be aware of your various Achilles heels and either don't jump in heel first (or hang a lantern on, uh, your heels. Okay, it was awfully mixed just then, but go with it, please. My apologies to Chris Matthews). Pinkerton also posits that Kerry could've avoided this latest battle if he'd presented himself as a four-term senator, highlighting differences on health care policy and Iraq.
It would be nice if an alternative health care plan would have attracted as much attention. It would also be nice if we were sure about Kerry's Iraq strategy or opinions (other than that bit about how he'd have voted for the war even today - or he wouldn't have. or, wait, what . . . .).
Kerry should have had stronger, swifter responses to the Swift Boat Captains, especially knowing that Bush and his supporters use this tactic (see: McCain, John). If the Dems had been, or could still be, in better control of Kerry's Message, the strategy would've worked/could work great. Kerry's service distinguishes him from Bush. Reasonable minds fogged by war, passing years, intense personal entanglement with the aftermath of Vietnam, and the need for self-preservation will differ on what happened on a river halfway around the world.
Kerry's problem is that his Iraq-tions don't match his post-Vietnam actions. If he were as zealously and unequivocally against what's been done in Iraq he would still have the same Swift Boat opposition now. In fact, I would argue, even if he had gone with Pinkerton's suggested strategies, the same issues would've been used by Bush/Bush supporters. The difference is that he would have a stronger base - he could've out Deaned Dean by having the practical, ski-free experience the Vermonter lacked. His narrative would've been more linear as well - surely an easier sell to the American people.
As I've mentioned before, post-Abu Ghraib, Kerry's Vietnam accusations seem more plausible, don't they? War does terrible things to young men. I've never been. Nor have I served in the military. But from film, literature, and news accounts, it seems that the basic psychology of war requires young men and women to dehumanize the opponent. At some point, that may break down and lead to actions considered shameful in any other context. Remember the glee with which young Marines in Fahrenheit 9/11 played their high tempo music and shot the holy hell out of a city? Remember them taking photos of prisoners there?
Why couldn't Kerry have said, "look what it did to us then. I know what the worst can be. I'm afraid of that happening again. So I'm against the war now. Some issues don't change. This is one of them."
Kerry couldn't have said that because we don't live in a world scripted by Aaron Sorkin (who'd have been more erudite than I just was). Rather than avoid his service record out of fear of this kind of attack, Kerry could've stayed truer to his own history and provided us all the record to back him up more fully.